Previously on The Alienist: The Boy on the Bridge
Each man and woman is enslaved to something, this episode of TNT’s acclaimed new show seems to suggest. I think it may have a point, especially when it comes to how our three main characters interact with each other, the world, and how they see themselves when they look in the mirror.
Laszlo Kreizler is a man of science; you could say he has a fanatical devotion to it. His “god” is in the details. His focus is such, he rebukes men who call him to task for his controversial new approach in treating patients. This is particularly clear when he orders a priest to leave his clinic after the man proclaims that the human body is a temple of God. A young girl has been brought in by her distraught mother because her daughter has begun to explore her burgeoning sexuality. Kreizler quotes Scripture back at the priest with a vehemence we’ll no doubt see more of.
John Moore is a slave to his demons. His regular visits to brothels suggest he’s looking for connection. Recovering alcoholics will tell you that when they drink it’s because they’re scared to find out what kind of person they really are. There’s been a past trauma, they’ve suffered abuse of some kind, they’re afraid of exposing themselves, and generally petrified of the idea of forming genuine relationships. Moore recoils when Kreizler points out that the illustrator may have feelings for Sara Howard. Moore is a danger to himself when he’s not in control of his emotions and desires, as the final act of this episode proves all too successfully.
Sara Howard knows she’s better than the men who employ her. She’s not a slave in the strict sense of the word, but the men of the NYPD see her as a pretty young thing, not to be taken seriously, but at the same time she’s a threat to their patriarchy. Captain Connor menaces Sarah at every available opportunity, and in one excruciating scene early on, he spies an eyelash on her cheek, lays it on his thumb and asks that she blow it away “for luck”. To her credit, though she struggles inside and out, Sara remains firm. Connor simply shrugs and moves on to his next victim. Sara uses her strength and sense of self to energise her into helping Kreizler and Moore with the case. In fact, it’s due to her persistence and morality that she uncovers two more murders that bear striking similarities to the brutal killing of Georgio “Gloria” Santorelli. That these files are hidden in Connor’s desk means that the police know more about the killings than they let on. Add the Zweig children from the three years previous, the serial killer has now claimed five lives that Sara knows of. There could be more.
“A Fruitful Partnership” brings the Isaacson twins, Marcus and Lucius, into the investigation. Jewish men, dealing with an anti-Semitic NYPD, they have a passion for forensics, and Kreizler is quick to include them in his team. It is their attention to detail that leads them to suspect that the same knife was used to gouge out the eyes of Santorelli and the Zweig children. Marcus is a budding Marxist, but whether it’s because he sees it as a viable alternative to capitalist America or as a way of bedding women remains to be seen. His mother would definitely not approve.
Commissioner Roosevelt is conflicted. It’s clear he wants to see this killer caught, but with the likes of New York’s mayor and banker JP Morgan looking over his shoulder he has to tread carefully. He reluctantly approves Kreizler’s request to run a parallel investigation, and allows him to take Sara and the Isaacsons on board.
Moore’s and Kreizler’s own relationship is at a turning point. The newspaper man is suspicious of the alienist’s reasoning in bringing Sara into the fold. “She’s not as strong as you think,” he says. Kreizler doesn’t see her this way at all, and when Moore storms off in a fugue of alcohol and hurt feelings, Kreizler sends young Stevie away to keep an eye on him. Moore ends up in Paresis Hall, where Georgio was known to work. With his demons front and centre, he conducts a parallel investigation of his own. One of the men who run the establishment, Thomas Byrnes, is behind the bar and spikes Moore’s drink when his questions hit too close to home. A boy takes Moore to his room and before Moore passes out, he tells the drunk and dazed man that Georgio suddenly vanished from his room when he took in a client, a man with a “silver smile”. Byrnes and Connor enter the room and wonder what to do with Moore. They call in their “girls” and suddenly Moore is in grave danger.
If there’s a bad guy in The Alienist, apart from the killer, it’s definitely Captain Connor. His misogyny and corruption is worn like a badge of honour, and he’s a brutal man. He takes pleasure in beating Georgio’s father, warning him and his family from interfering with what he sees as a closed case. When Sara brings Moore to their tenement home, she sees a family living in squalor and fear. This spurs her into action. There is little doubt she will come face to face with Connor at the tail end of the investigation.
The production is gorgeous, and at times the dialogue is humorous. I enjoyed the opera scenes, if not the opera itself (never been a fan). Another scene that highlights the character interaction between the five is the dinner where Kreizler outlines his plan to take down the killer using forensic evidence, such as fingerprints. The Isaacson twins are all in, as is Sara. Moore not so much, but he’s got his own stuff going on.
A couple of other things intrigue me about The Alienist, namely the fondness that runs between Cyrus and Stevie. They look out for each other, and they have an obvious loyalty for Kreizler. The alienist’s housekeeper, Mary Palmer (Q’orianker Kilcher), is an enigma. She’s skittish, anxious, and, for now, mute. Each of these three have a connection with Kreizler – they’re rescuees – and their individual stories will be intriguing when they come to light.
So far, I’m very impressed with The Alienist. The next episode can’t come quick enough.
The Alienist S1E2 Review Score
"A Fruitful Partnership"
The Alienist – Episode 2: A Fruitful Partnership” | Starring: Daniel Brühl, Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans | Directed by: Jakob Verbruggen | Written by: Hossein Amini, E. Max Frye